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Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics

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British Statesman Benjamin Disraeli said, "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics." This week the government of the State of South Dakota qualified as a purveyor of all three.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics sent out a press release touting South Dakota as having the lowest unemployment rates in the Nation. This statement qualifies as a lie -- a damned lie -- and as a huge lie sugar-coated by creative statistics.

Allow me to quote from this fabrication. "The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports South Dakota's 3.2 percent unemployment rate is the lowest of a wide range of unemployment percentages nationwide, with 14,400 people looking for a job in the state."

Let me introduce a bit of truth and reality to this false report. First of all, there are nine Indian reservations in the State of South Dakota. In the 1980 U. S. Census, four of these reservations made the top ten lists of the poorest counties in America.

If the BLS was honest they would have taken the number of unemployed Indians living on these nine reservations and added them to the 14,400 people looking for a job. On nearly every Indian reservation in South Dakota the unemployment rate is 50 percent and higher.

If there are 20,000 unemployed Native Americans living on the nine reservations, that brings the total of unemployed in South Dakota to 34,400. This new figure would surely skewer the false unemployment figures compiled by the state. In reality, there are closer to 40,000 unemployed Native Americans residing in South Dakota. Why are these unemployed Indians not counted? Aren't they also citizens of South Dakota?

The State will tell you it is because they are no longer actively seeking a job. Not looking for a job? The fact of the matter is that they are still unemployed and if there are no jobs available on the reservations where they reside, it is not their fault. They are still unemployed. Compiling statistics to fit the facts as the State sees them and fixing the unemployment rates to make the state look good only compounds the lie.

If the truth be known, South Dakota would have the highest rate of unemployment in the Nation if they counted all of the unemployed. Ignoring and sweeping under the rug the number of Native Americans without jobs does not alter the true facts. The statistics compiled by the BLS are false, and they are false by any honest accounting known to man. They are, indeed, "damned lies." Any news organization that took these "cooked" figures as fact and failed to investigate their validity is as guilty of the cover-up as is the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The Benefits of being an Independent

Like thousands of other Americans, I avoided the long lines of voters and cast my vote early. As an Independent I was free to skip over the block of voters offered by either major party and make that independent choice.

I have read and listened to the many complaints by Republicans about the decision by Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD) not to debate his opponent, Republican Joel Dykstra. The charges were often quite scurrilous and mean-spirited. I didn't buy any of them.

Sen. Tim Johnson is a man of impeccable integrity. Because of a stroke that nearly took his life he is in an advanced state of recovery. His mind is as sharp as ever, but like many stroke victims, he still has a speech impediment. On an outing last week I even heard one Republican say, "He sounds like a retard." How mean can one get?

I am sure that if Tim chose to debate he would get his points across with conviction. It just might take him a little longer to do it. But recovering from a near fatal illness often causes physical problems that will eventually be overcome. If Senator Johnson decided not to put his handicaps on public display, that is the choice he and his family made, but not before consulting many, many members of the Democrat Party.

In making my choice I did not vote as a Democrat or as a Republican. I voted with my heart for the man I believe is best suited to represent me as a Senator from South Dakota.

The recovery of Sen. Tim Johnson is ongoing, but I am sure that it will be a complete recovery and that he will continue to represent all of his constituents, including the Native American population, with honesty, integrity and fairness.

(Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota, was born, raised and educated on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. He was the founder and first president of the Native American Journalists Association and the founder and publisher of Indian Country Today, the Lakota Times, and the Dakota/Lakota Journal. He was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard in the Class of 1991. He can be reached at najournalist@msn.com)